Milk thistle may help in the prevention of gallbladder disorders, such as formation of gallstones. The gallbladder is a small organ located behind the liver that acts as a repository for bile. Bile is a secretion produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.
Bile is comprised of some of the waste produced as the liver cleanses the body and includes expired blood cells, metabolic waste and environmental toxins that have somehow entered the body. It also contains an emulsifying-type agent. Once it is formed, bile moves from the liver to the gall bladder, then on to the intestines. In the intestines, it acts to break down fats and lubricates bowel movements before being expelled by the body. When we consume a high fat meal, for example, the gall bladder releases additional bile into the intestines to help break the fats down for expulsion.
Cholesterol gallstones are a collection of fat molecules and other waste matter that clump together and can cause blockages. There are also pigment stones made up of calcium salts and other compounds, which have the appearance of sand. When the smaller pigment stones irritate the gallbladder, it is known as a sludgy gallbladder or dyskinetic gallbladder. Gallstones may be undetectable, called silent, causing no symptoms whatsoever. About 80% of gallstones are of the cholesterol variety while the remaining 20% are pigment stones.
By adding milk thistle to your diet, you may help your body produce more bile, thereby reducing your chances of developing gallstones or other gallbladder disorders. Since bile acts as a natural laxative, any increase in its production is going to help cleanse the body by eliminating waste matter and preventing the formation of gallstones. No one is certain why gallstones occur, or why some people develop them and some do not. The reason may be a combination of genetics, ethnicity, obesity and any number of other factors.
Though side effects are uncommon, pregnant women and young children should not take milk thistle without checking with their healthcare professional first. Those with allergies to asters and related flowers should avoid milk thistle as a severe allergic reaction may occur.
As always, consult your healthcare professional before adding any supplement to your diet.